The Mohawk Trail

Nicholas Samaras


August. My whole life became August.
I met my father in the light of August.

My housing project opened onto a ragged sky
and my father was passage to safety.

It was August, and his large, calm hand
guided me into a spiritual realm

that held the deep foliage of this world
with everything transcendent.

For an orphan boy, God was a cascade
of grey hair and I became the son

of a grey and silver-flecked Old Testament beard.
The stone that was rejected is set

by the jeweler and redeemed.
In our new home, every waking was a vision.

In the light of our parlour, my father’s
mane and beard was a white halo of fire.

Each year, August into September,
we drove the Mohawk Trail of the nineteen thirties,

retracing the miles of my father’s childhood
becoming my childhood.

We rode the late September air
into the patched colours of the Mohawk Trail

to the hairpin turn of New York’s curvature of the world—
on the border of its many lost

valleys and villages of apple cider, the orange
patches of pumpkins leading into October—

then, steering back to Massachusetts
and the Woburn graves of my grandparents

who had driven their children over the Mohawk Trail
for early freedom in a first car.

In our time, my father drove me
through the leaves loved and gathered,

the beautiful colours of dying in the air.
Every day’s slant of light was perfection.

Every day was the End of Days.
August into late September. We toured

the rumpled hills on fire with foliage.
We drove north enough for fall air to cool tree sap.

We rambled to where the road of memory
merged into the winding road of legacy.

Muscular clouds, familiar from a hundred years ago.
We traveled the Mohawk Trail into a life

my father bequeathed to me.
Over each green and gold-fielded mile, I saw him—

young in a rumble-seat,
the colour of his hair coppered in the late sun.

We drove the green and pleasant hills.
We covered the earth to love it,

before we became the earth.
We wound through western Massachusetts,

past the broad fields of Morgan horses
to find the old totem—the lost statue

of the Mohawk Indian, his bronzed arms
outstretched to the sky, hailing the sunrise

either in divine petition or divine receipt.
In the reflecting pool of tribal names

before that statue, my father’s history and stories
became mine. How, in his presence,

my soul grew calm. How the light of August
waved into Septembers

we drove through for decades together—
with me safe beside my father forever.

The car we glided over the earth.
The gold parlour we lived in, content.

The hours of being together
and not needing to speak.

The practice of sitting at home
under lamplight and reading

in each other’s breathing presence.
What I learned to love was silence

and the air of silence, the shelter of that.
Oh, there are worlds inside this world.

We can live in any of them we choose.
We can drive anywhere in a family car.

I lived in a gold, companionable silence,
my transfigured life.

I made friends with the many silences—
my father looking up at me from his book

and smiling. Each gathered mile
from the Mohawk Trail was a gratitude of history

to which I now drive my children,
over the ruffling valleys of Massachusetts,

refinding a Mohawk Indian statue standing
on a trail through time, in August and the light of August.

All the months and years that followed.
My father, my children, my whole life, August.


Nicholas Samaras is the author of Hands of the Saddlemaker (Yale Series of Younger Poets), and American Psalm, World Psalm. The Poetry Editor for The Adirondack Review, he is currently completing a new manuscript of poetry and a memoir of the first part of his life having been lived “underground,” being a child whose parents moved every 6-9 months through nine countries. Samaras considers himself to be a writer of permanent exile.



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